William Funnell proposes one-day internationals to reignite top-level sport
AS professionals, we’re up against a big problem right now because of Brexit, so much so that if I was younger I’d be thinking about buying a base in mainland Europe. Essentially we’re jumping through many more hoops just to do our job.
But it got me thinking, what could be done to give riders a reason to stay on home soil to avoid the extra hassle and expense of a circuit which is becoming increasingly pay to play? What do we have that the rest of Europe doesn’t? The answer is our county shows, many of which are on their knees.
We find it difficult to support county shows nowadays because if you’re not competing for ranking points, you can’t get into international shows – at the moment you’re lucky even to get a spot at a two-star show, let alone three-star and above, as they let you in according to your ranking.
Without a high enough ranking you’re simply a non-entity, so entries at county shows have dropped and the standard has died.
But the county show circuit is the best education for a young horse – at the time I was producing Billy Angelo, you could take a year to do all the county shows with a horse and still get into Olympia. They are also a fantastic shop window for our sport with a captive audience on-site.
SHOWCASING OUR SPORT
I’VE watched my wife Pippa going to one-day international events where they trot-up before the dressage and pack the event into a day. The showjumping equivalent is already popular in America and with the same principles, you could easily run one-day international jumping at our county shows.
Without the need for FEI stabling, there would be limited extra expense and the big grands prix at Great Yorkshire and Royal Highland already offer enough prize money to be a ranking class.
We could have 10 to 15 over the summer at the likes of Norfolk, South of England and Kent County and I’m sure they’d prove popular – would you rather queue up for hours at Calais or compete on your doorstep? Covid has brought home quality of life so I think county shows will become huge again because people want to experience more.
You can’t put a price on bringing showjumping to people outside our sport, which simply doesn’t happen anymore. Live-streaming is great for fans, but nobody outside the sport sees it.
Offering something unique on the British circuit would also help solve the current problem of why any riders would want to come and train with us in the UK when international shows are so limited.
I’m sure these people would love the county shows – wouldn’t it be a novelty to jump in front of a crowd again?
Somebody needs to take the suggestion to the FEI, and British Showjumping should be proactive about taking the idea to organisers, saying, ‘Right, we’ll bring all the top riders to your rings’ – it would go a long way to looking after the top of the sport a bit better. There’s no better time to help county shows get back on their feet.
If British Eventing can do it, why can’t we?
HITTING THE GROUND RUNNING
IT’S been nice to be back competing at international shows with a couple of Nations Cups in the calendar next month. The Olympic team has to be picked before the end of June so we need to hit the ground running and find form quickly – these are an important couple of months.
You can also read this exclusive column in the 20 May issue of Horse & Hound magazine.
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